We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Monday, October 24, 2016


Stars of The Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation Gala onstage at the Rose Theater

The citizens of Planet Opera gathered yesterday for the 42nd Anniversary of The Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation. It was a stellar celebration with grants being awarded to a stunning selection of young singers—rising stars, every single one of them. The audience at Rose Theater of Lincoln Center was gloriously entertained.  As if that were not enough, honors were distributed to those who have contributed so much to the field of opera.

Sachi Liebersgesell, President of the Foundation, always eloquent, was rendered nearly speechless when given the honor of receiving the kimono worn by Ms. Albanese when she performed the role of Cio-Cio San. Bryan Hymel, winner from 2008 and master of the French repertoire, shared his recollections of Ms. Albanese and received a Distinguished Achievement Award, as did Ailyn Perez, Nadine Sierra, and Mariana Zvetkova.

Ms. Sierra was put onstage at the age of 16 by Ms. Albanese, singing “O mio babino caro”—and if you have already guessed that she performed the same aria yesterday, give yourself a nice pat on the back. Her voice has become richer and more expansive but she has not lost the pure tone and youthful presentation.

Soprano Ailyn Perez treated us to “Io sono l’umile ancella” from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, sung with generous voice and heart, and accompanied by the outstanding Bryan Wagorn.   Ms. Zvetkova gave us a Strauss song with thrilling tone. Both artists revealed anecdotes about Ms. Albanese's effect on their lives.

We were blown away by Lauren Flanigan’s performance as Lady Macbeth. Ms. Flanigan was quite open with the audience about a neurological illness that has damaged her hearing to such an extent that she has been struggling with novel ways to express her creative bent. How she could perform so far beyond excellence is beyond our understanding but she did. Had she not mentioned the deficit we would never have suspected. Let this be a lesson to those who complain about their handicaps; let this be an inspiration to all of us!  

The Lifetime Achievement Award she was given was well earned. Anyone who doesn’t know about her Music and Mentoring House needs to get informed.  Young artists find affordable lodging in Ms. Flanigan’s artistic home, along with socializing with fellow artists, and much needed emotional support.

Every young artist on the program is a star on the rise.  Winners were, as usual, selected from an enormous field.  We were hearing la crème de la crème. Do not look to us for information about the financial awards. We will just tell our readers what struck us according to fach.

Soprano Vanessa Vasquez is winning awards all over the place and deserves every one. Her performance of “Un bel di” from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly was gloriously intense. We were so wrapped up in the mood she created that technique was forgotten; but upon reflection, there is no doubt that she uses this fabulous instrument with attention to all the fine technical aspects.

We are suckers for Puccini and soprano Karen Barraza performed “Tu che di gel sei cinta” from Turandot,  ushering us into Liu’s very soul. Her singing should have melted Turandot’s icy heart on the spot. A third soprano, Tracy Cantin, sang the bittersweet “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” in fine form.

In the baritone fach, we loved Jared Bybee’s “Vision fugitive” from Massenet’s Hérodiade. We have been hearing quite a bit of Mr. Bybee lately but it is never enough! His creation of a long legato line was masterful and his French is parfait! He was in complete control of tempo and dynamics, both of which he utilized in the service of the aria's changing moods. 

All the baritones were excellent and Norman Garrett could be the Verdi baritone for whom we have been waiting. His “Eri tu che macchiavi quell’anima” from Ballo in Maschera was beautifully proportioned and dramatically expansive.

Kidon Choi did a swell job with “O, Mariya, Mariya!" from Tchaikovsky’s Mazeppa, an opera with which we are unfamiliar. Mr. Choi’s performance made us want to hear the entire opera.

There were two tenors on the program as well. Alasdair Kent swept us along in a wave of Gallic glory in “Fantaisie aux divine mensonges” from Delibes’ Lakme. The flaw we find in most tenors was blissfully absent. Mr. Kent can spin out a delicate thread of pianissimo perfection. There was no tension, no pushing.  Just gorgeously floated tone.

Yet another terrific tenor delighted our ears with his languorous French line; Fanyong Du performed “Je crois entendre encore” from Bizet’s Les Pêcheurss de Perles, having mastered the diminuendo so beautifully that we were holding our breath.

Bass-baritone André Courville created a marvelous marching military man in “Air du tambour major” from Thomas’ Le Cid, another opera with which we need to get better acquainted. His voice is a substantial one and reaches out to grab you gently by the ears. His dramatic presentation adds to the effect.

Finally, we recall several outstanding duets—and we do so love duets! Soprano Maria Natale and tenor Alexander McKissick brought new life to the tender “O soave fanciulla” from Puccini’s La Bohème. There’s a reason certain duets appear over and over again on recital programs. Young artists can put their own stamp on a beloved and familiar work.

In the same fashion, soprano Mia Pafumi and baritone Pawel Konik gave a slightly new sound to “La ci darem la mano” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni—not different enough to upset the balance but different enough in color to make it their own.

Soprano Amber Daniel and mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey (the only mezzo on the program) sang the familiar duet “Sous le dôme épais” from Lakmé. The impressive part of their performance was that neither held back and we heard a glorious richness of consequent overtones that filled Rose Theater with sound. They must have worked together diligently to make this duet their own.

As usual, the excellent host was Brian Kellow and the versatile accompanists were Arlene Shrut and Jonathan Kelly.

This yearly event is always familiar but ever new, restoring our belief in the future of opera!  Bravissimi tutti!

(c) meche kroop

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